With the comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date map of buildings and roads in Sub-Saharan Africa, humanitarian organizations are developing more efficient delivery plans. Aid workers can now easily visualize where communities in need are, estimate how many people need care, and determine the best routes between settlements. This ultimately saves time and resources while also reducing harmful CO2 emissions generated by inefficient routes.
Most importantly, with the maps provided by Ecopia, field crews can be sure they are not missing any settlements. Stephane Vouillamoz, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Novel-T, an engineering firm working to implement the data, noted that when using incomplete maps for planning, there were inevitably chronically-missed communities. “With Ecopia data, we were able to identify thousands of people in settlements we did not know existed, and develop field plans that would give them the medical care they need,” Vouillamoz said.
Among Novel-T’s contributions to the humanitarian effort is the development of a passive tracking system. Using geospatial applications powered by Ecopia’s building footprint data, the system automatically tracks where field crews have distributed aid, meaning organizations do not need to train their workers on how to collect coordinates and make a map. Instead, they can focus on providing critical medical services.
“Ecopia’s ability to map every building and road in Sub-Saharan Africa enables us to save and improve the lives of millions,” added Ravi Shankar, Head of GIS at the WHO. “This data is an absolute game-changer for the WHO and other humanitarian organizations as we conduct field work. Ecopia is one of the best datasets we could have.”
The data provided by Ecopia has helped many humanitarian organizations to optimize their planning and reach more people in need. Through Ecopia’s commitment to using AI for good, the data was made available to humanitarian groups distributing life-saving medical care throughout the region. For example, the Red Cross has leveraged Ecopia building footprint and road data to distribute bed nets for antimalarial initiatives. Similarly, the WHO has created catchment areas for snake bite treatment centers to make sure settlements are within a reasonable distance to receive care. Catchment analysis has also proven helpful in combating the spread of Ebola, as defining a radius around an outbreak can help humanitarian crews distribute limited resources effectively.
Continuing to Develop AI-Based Mapping Solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa
Ecopia’s creation of a reliable map of Sub-Saharan Africa has sparked further geospatial innovation in the region. The WHO Afro-GIS Centre in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, is building a culture of GIS, enabling its workers and partners with the latest mapping advancements and promoting geospatial literacy. “Our teams in Africa are trained to use the Ecopia data for ‘what-if’ scenarios, greatly improving our preparation for possible health crises,” continued Shankar. “In the past, healthcare facilities were placed in a location by chance, not by choice. With Ecopia data, we can determine accessibility to critical medical services and select sites for new care centers.”
Other organizations dedicated to advancing GIS in the region have since been formed. In 2018, GRID3 was founded through a partnership of Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), WorldPop at the University of Southampton, the Flowminder Foundation, and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). GRID3’s goal is to help governments in Sub-Saharan Africa make full use of spatial data to solve their most pressing development challenges, and the team has been working closely with the Gates Foundation, WHO, Novel-T, and other partner organizations to involve governments in the generation, validation, and use of foundational geospatial data products on population, settlements, infrastructure, and boundaries.
“Before Ecopia, it was difficult to map all settled areas in the region and accurately allocate population to where people reside” said Olena Borkovska, GRID3 Project Coordinator at CIESIN. “We founded GRID3 to put everyone on the map and empower governments with accurate and up-to-date data. Ecopia is a key component of that.”
Among the many responsibilities of GRID3 is annotating the Ecopia maps with population estimates, settlement names, and nearby points of interest. This added context is helpful for field crews and government aid groups as they plan public health services and conduct field visits to distribute care.
For example, GRID3 is working with the Government of Zambia to support planning of bed net distribution throughout the country, part of the government’s goal of eliminating malaria. An accurate population estimate is required to source enough nets and make sure no community is missed, but at the time of 2020 and 2021 malaria campaigns, the most recent census in Zambia dated back to 2010. Data from Ecopia is a crucial component of GRID3’s population modeling that provides estimates of how many people currently live in Zambia, and how that population is distributed throughout the country.